Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Published: April 17, 2015

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During cold and flu season, it is often difficult for sufferers to determine whether their symptoms of sneezing, scratchy throat and coughing are due to a cold or flu. While both illnesses cause similar symptoms, the conditions must be treated differently in order to avoid complications. Understanding the differences between cold and flu symptoms can help to ensure that sufferers treat their illness accordingly.

Onset of Symptoms

One of the main differences between cold and flu viruses is the onset of symptoms. Cold symptoms tend to come on slowly, starting with a scratchy throat and congestion. Over a course of a few days, nasal secretions become thicker. Coughs due to colds are typically present between the fourth and fifth day of onset. Flu symptoms such as sore throat and coughing tend to develop rapidly and are typically accompanied by a high fever.

Types of Coughing

Cold and flu viruses can both cause symptoms of coughing, but the main difference between the two viruses is the type of cough that occurs. Individuals with colds tend to have productive coughs that produce phlegm, while coughing due to flu viruses tends to be dry, hacking and unproductive.

Types of Fever

Fever can be present in both colds and flu; however, the type of fever for each virus can differ significantly. Fevers that accompany colds are typically mild and tend to be more common in young children. Fevers caused by influenza viruses tend to run high and are often accompanied by chills and body aches.

While cold symptoms are definitely less severe than those of the flu, both conditions require proper care in order to prevent complications. Understanding the differences between the two illnesses and consulting with a physician if symptoms are persistent or cause significant discomfort can help to ensure efficient treatment, allowing sufferers to move forward to a full recovery.

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sources
  • webmd.com "Flu or Cold Symptoms?" http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/flu-cold-symptoms
  • health.ny.gov "Influenza Fact Sheet" http://https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/fact_sheet.htm
  • health.syr.edu "The Common Cold versus Flu…. What You Need to Know" http://health.syr.edu/Education/cold-and-flu.html
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